Patients Who Give Us Hope

Posted on 1.15.2012 by Amy

For me, it was the serene-faced mother of a two-year-old who looked toward the ceiling after her abortion and said:

“I am so grateful for this option.”

Each abortion care worker has at least one patient in recent memory who gave us that mushy-gushy feeling in our bellies -- who made the work feel worthwhile.

For Deborah Oyer, the Seattle doctor who owns Aurora Medical Services, one of those patients was a religious 17-year-old who was against abortion...until she ended up in Oyer’s office seeking one.

Now, I would venture to guess that each abortion care worker also has one or two patients who make them want to scream. For some of us, those are the anti-choice patients who, through tightly woven, convoluted and protective mental processes, have decided that they are the only ones who should ever, ever be allowed to have an abortion.

Deborah Oyer summed up the basic argument made by some of these patients:

“Everyone else in your waiting room is a slut, and I have a good reason for having an abortion. I’m against abortion, except I need one.”

I’ve struggled recently with the question of whether abortion needs to be a politically transformative experience. Is it fair for me to secretly wish all patients were as pro-choice as the mother whom I mentioned?

On the one hand, abortion is a legal right and a minor medical procedure. I wish women did not have to drive past pictures of aborted fetuses to access it. I wish they did not have to suffer from shame and stigma because of the way our society abuses the issue of abortion, using it as a distraction from other issues and as a political wedge.

Sometimes I feel like the last thing I want to do is make the experience more political.

On the other hand, I wonder what would happen if the many millions of women who have had and will have abortions in this country -- the one in three of us -- and their allies, were to stand up and defend the validity of our experiences.

We would have a revolution tomorrow.

And the Religious Right would have nothing, nothing to say. Because their mothers and sisters and daughters would be with us.

Deborah Oyer told me how she deals with this issue. It’s beautiful:

“I had a woman recently who was against abortion and I don’t ever let that go. You’re here for an abortion. I need you to recognize that that’s what you’ve done. And so in the future I’d like you to remember that when you vote; I’d like you to remember that when you talk to other people. Your abortion really isn’t different than someone else’s.”

Deborah Oyer is a firm and loving person, and she says this in a firm and loving way. I ask her how she balances her kind, thoughtful request -- her nonetheless political request -- with caring for the patient.

She leans forward and puts her hand on my knee, and she says:

“You’ve been against abortion your whole life and now you’re having one. So I’m concerned about how you’re going to feel tomorrow. What’s your support system?

“And we start from there.”

So this 17-year-old religious woman promised Oyer that her life would be different after her abortion.

As it turns out, she meant it.

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